Kickstart your itinerary with this curated list of top experiences, must-trys, and happening places in and around Greater Palm Springs.
This historic Palm Springs hotel once owned by silent film star J. Carrol Naish and painter Gordon Coutts is what bohemian dreams are made of. korakia.com
Elephant Car Wash
The desert’s best-loved neon sign is a giant pink elephant in Rancho Mirage. Bonus: Get a soft-cloth wash while you snap your Boomerang. ranchoelephantcarwash.com
Oasis Date Gardens
Frolic amid the palm fronds at this 175-acre ranch in Thermal, near Coachella. They’ve got date lemonade and 10 varieties of date shakes. oasisdate.com
A Palm Springs festivalgoer favorite for its rainbow-hued walls, cheery suites, and regular pool parties. thesaguaro.com
Take a Hike
Bump and Grind
This popular 3.9-mile loop, suitable for all ages, begins behind the Desert Crossing shopping center. An elevation gain of 1,108 feet offers stellar views of the valley and its infinite sea of palm trees.
Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area
At the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, there’s a 710-acre park with various-level hiking and equestrian trails, camping, and a fishable lake with a long sandy beach.
A nature preserve of more than 2,800 acres with a river and stunning wildflowers every spring. You’ll encounter part of the Pacific Crest Trail, the famous trek that runs from Mexico to Canada.
Manmade ladders bolted to the rock carry you through the magnificent rock formations of this canyon. It’s a moderate 4.5-mile loop with a waterfall and various side trails.
Coachella Valley Preserve
There are more than 25 miles of hiking trails at this wildlife preserve, which is home to the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard (found nowhere else in the world).
PHOTOGRAPH BY BEARLEADER CHRONICLE
Best Side Trips
The national park known for fantastical rock formations and twisty Seussian trees can be accessed from either side of the valley. Take Interstate 10 East to Cottonwood Springs Road or I-10 West to Highway 62 and Yucca Trail. Do some bouldering and stay late to stare at the stars.
Highway 74, aka the scenic Palms to Pines Highway, will connect you to Highway 243 and the mountain town of Idyllwild — an artisan-centric community with quaint cabins, rustic boutiques, and miles of ponderosa forest waiting to be explored.
Chuckwalla Valley Raceway
A race track in Desert Center, about an hour east on I-10 from Palm Springs, Chuckwalla hosts automobile and motorcycle events as well as track days
for those who want to take a spin themselves. Stay overnight in one of 40 rustic one-bedroom cabins.
Follow Grapefruit Boulevard southeast from Indio and you’ll hit the Salton Sea. Once imagined to become a destination resort, nature took its toll and left the beach deserted, covered in fish bones and long-forgotten scrap. Though eerie, it is a landscape to stun.
General Patton’s Memorial Museum
View the area’s military history at this museum in Chiriaco Summit, near Indio, sited on the grounds of a former World War II training facility established by Gen. George S. Patton.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BEARLEADER CHRONICLE
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY BMW PERFORMANCE CENTER
The BMW Performance Center and MINI Driving Experience
86050 Jasper Lane
The West Coast home of high-performance driving welcomes you to choose between getting behind the wheel of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” in an adrenaline-pumping M School — where you can test your limits and gain useful skills, such as panic braking — or take a spin in a MINI Tricks and Stunts program. Either way, the certified instructors here will treat you to an experience like no other.
They offer one- and two-day teen and adult Car Control schools, track drives, and other special driving programs. The instructors guide drivers as they tackle multiple challenges and develop real-world skills on a closed course. The BMW Performance Center’s brand-new building boasts multimedia conference rooms, a gift shop, a gourmet café, and catering to make group events spectacular and memorable. Make reservations by calling 888-345-4BMW or visit their website for calendars, program details, and more.
Best of the Best Tours
Nature, celebrities, and windmills.
Big Wheel Tours
Biking, hiking, and exploring by SUV.
Old Hollywood homes and hangouts.
Desert Tasty Tours
A guided culinary stroll … with food.
Five Star Adventure Tours
Legendary midcentury landmarks.
Palm Springs Historical Society Walking Tours
Neighborhoods steeped in glamour.
Palm Springs Mod Squad
Taking you inside iconic midcentury modern homes.
Palm Springs Windmill Tours
Get inside the wind farm fences.
The Modern Tour
Venture inside the private midcentury modern residences that put Palm Springs on the architectural map. As the official tour company of the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, The Modern Tour whisks guests between historic sites and educates along the way.
Tour guide Michael Stern, author of Julius Shulman: Palm Springs and Hollywood Modern and director of the film Julius Shulman: Desert Modern, brings his knowledge together with unprecedented access to property interiors on a variety of residential tours to places including the Frederick Loewe Estate and Frey House II. Tours start at $175 per person and include complimentary entry to the Architecture and Design Center as well as a complimentary DVD of Julius Shulman: Desert Modern.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MODERN TOUR
74794 Lennon Place, Suite B
Get an up-close look at some of the most breathtaking natural wonders in the desert, from the San Andreas Fault and Joshua Tree National Park to Painted Canyon, and learn about the local flora, fauna, and geology while riding in the back of an open-air Jeep or climate-controlled vehicle.
Packages range from a San Andreas Fault Sunset Jeep Tour (great for photographers!) to a three-hour excursion into the Indian Canyons. Desert Adventures’ Enchanted Desert venue, which features a replica Indian village, is available for events and weddings.
Jeep charters are also available from Desert Adventures to take you and your crew on custom pub crawls or shopping trips.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY DESERT ADVENTURES
Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours
61607 Twentynine Palms Highway
For 17 years, the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council has cultivated public awareness of the arts in the High Desert through its annual Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours program. Held over two weekends each October, the tours provide a one-of-a-kind experience for art lovers and buyers to take a self-guided tour of the nearly 100 private workspaces open to the public for the event. A wide range of mediums is represented, from fiber arts to fine metalwork jewelry to bizzaro assemblage sculptures, at studios located in the Morongo Basin’s gateway cities to Joshua Tree National Park.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF HWY 62 OPEN STUDIO ART TOURS
Piano Competition Palm Desert
World-class piano performances, featuring “Classical Music for the Contemporary World,” begin Nov. 14 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert with Three Pianos, Six Hands, during which three Waring International prizewinners will share the stage. This year’s (mostly free) international competition for youth, age 10 to 17, happens March 24 to 30 at the Indian Wells Theater. On April 1, the Concerto Finale with full orchestra starts at 7 p.m., also at the McCallum Theatre.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF WARING INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION
73000 Fred Waring Drive
Palm Desert 760-340-2787
In 1988, the Dodgers won the World Series, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson topped the pop charts, and a little show called Phantom of the Opera premiered on Broadway. Those in the Coachella Valley reveled in another milestone moment: the grand opening of the desert’s signature performance venue. Bob Hope on Jan. 2 of that year hosted the McCallum Theatre’s televised debut concert.
Now celebrating its 30th year, the nonprofit theater continues to host top-caliber, award-winning performers, from Willie Nelson and YouTube sensation Jake Shimabukuro to Cirque du Soleil, and also works to foster a passion for the arts for the up-and-coming generation through valleywide educational programming that impacts more than 40,000 students and teachers in Greater Palm Springs.
Annenberg Theater at Palm Springs Art Museum opened in 1975 with almost perfect acoustics that performers often praise. psmuseum.org
314 S. Cahuilla Road
Palm Springs 760-322-0179
Dezart Performs celebrates its 11th season with four bold works onstage. This award-winning theater company, founded in 2008, is locally acclaimed for productions of rarely seen, cutting-edge plays, many of which are provocative and socially relevant — all of them, unexpected. The 2018–19 marquee includes the hilarious political comedy Church & State; Perfect Arrangement, a comic tale of closeted lives; the gripping new drama White Guy on the Bus; and the Southern romantic comedy Maytag Virgin.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF DEZART PERFORMS
Palm Canyon Theatre
538 N. Palm Canyon Drive
The nonprofit regional repertory theater company is dedicated to enrichment and education through the performing arts. Palm Canyon Theatre produces about 13 Broadway musicals and classic plays each year. Highlights this season include Oklahoma, Avenue Q, Hairspray, Shakespeare in Love, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Big River.
The theater, with its sizeable stage and plush auditorium seating, opened in 1997 after extensive renovation to the historic Frances S. Stevens School, which was one of the first learning institutions in the desert. That educational legacy lives on in the theater’s kids’ camps, which teach singing, dancing, stagecraft, makeup,
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PALM CANYON THEATRE
Hairspray performed at Palm Canyon Theatre in 2012.
Indio Performing Arts Center hosts local productions.
Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre will relocate this year from its 86-seat venue in Rancho Mirage to a larger, state-of-the-art theater in Cathedral City at the D’Place Entertainment complex thanks to strong community support.
48750 Seminole Drive
Grab a latte at Starbucks and stroll this desert shopping oasis set against the scenic backdrop of the San Gorgonio Mountains. The relaxed, open-air outlet mall offers great deals in athletic wear, accessories, clothing, and even kitchen accoutrements from well-known specialty retailers like Columbia Sportswear, Le Creuset, Rip Curl, Adidas, Brighton Collectibles, and more.
Located 20 minutes west of Palm Springs off Interstate 10, the pet-friendly shopping center welcomes more than 15 million bargain seekers per year.
Cabazon Dinosaurs are a landmark unto themselves, made famous in cult films such as Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. There are more than 50 lifelike dinos as well as a gift shop with fun prehistoric souvenirs. cabazondinosaurs.com
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Not Your Basic Bar
533 Viet Fusion
This modern Vietnamese-rooted eatery in Palm Springs has a spring roll bar that serves made-to-order hand rolls.
Dead or Alive
The bartender hands you a flashlight when you claim a seat at this small, dimly lit craft-beer-and-wine bar in Palm Springs. There’s no sign outside, but you’ll recognize it by the orb of light hanging by the door.
Indio’s favorite karaoke dive bar is decked in Western art and offers a free shuttle for nearby pickups and drop-offs.
Toucan’s Tiki Lounge
Tropical vibrations meet DJs and drag shows at this LGBTQ haunt in downtown Palm Springs.
Pappy & Harriet’s
Located in the Old West–themed Pioneertown, 30 minutes from Palm Springs, this storied saloon has hosted acts from Lorde and Kesha to Paul McCartney
and Robert Plant.